NC State Online Launches Career-Focused Marketing Strategy to Boost Students’ Return on Educational Investment

Woman sits at a table with a laptop and notebook. Laptop has NC State sticker.

What can you do with a degree? DELTA’s Marketing and Partnership Development (MPD) team has spent several years gathering data, composing new materials and collaborating with campus partners to answer this critical question for prospective NC State Online students. 

With a strategic, multi-pronged approach, DELTA MPD is telling the story of how education can transform a career. They’re helping students to picture where an online degree, certificate or teacher licensure can lead, find the program that will get them there and prepare for a rewarding future. 

Associate Vice Provost, Marketing and Partnership Development Kay Zimmerman, with the help of Assistant Director of Marketing and Partnership Development Katie Bean, developed a career-focused, centralized student-recruitment strategy for NC State’s 111 accredited online and distance education programs. This innovative career-based marketing concept speaks to what matters most to prospective students –– finding the right academic program that supports securing a job and a successful career.

“Our strategy is now career-focused,” says Zimmerman. “It’s a return on the investment that a prospective student makes.”

MPD is well-equipped to effectively reach students in a variety of ways. Starting in September 2019, DELTA will employ a number of research-based tools to tell the story of NC State’s online degree programs and their lasting benefits to prospective students. 

Strategic, Centralized Marketing for All Online and Distance Education Programs

MPD’s new recruitment strategy seeks to represent the entire scope of what NC State Online has to offer. This is a departure from the marketing strategy they’ve applied extensively in the past –– creating microsites, or individual web pages that are attached to a larger website. 

Previously, MPD chose specific online and distance education programs to concentrate marketing and recruitment efforts on through digital initiatives and strategies. They also worked with a vendor to develop microsites for individual programs, driving website traffic with keyword searches and digital ads which were targeted to prospective audiences based on behavior and location. 

Now, that strategy is changing. Rather than highlighting individual programs, the team is taking a centralized approach to student recruitment and featuring all 111 online and distance education programs in their marketing efforts, reflecting a broadened focus on careers and the benefits of every program offered. 

An enhanced and revised NC State Online website with new capabilities will serve as a central vessel to house information from basic overviews to precise career projections, located on a new careers page for each program. The reworked website is set to go live in early fall 2019. 

Labor Market Data Driven Technology Integration 

Rich in data, the new NC State Online career pages represent an advancement in online student recruitment that is unique to NC State. They are powered by the Burning Glass® Labor Insight™ platform, a data-driven analytics software that tracks labor market trends to communicate insights about academic programs and the careers they can lead to. 

The data supplied through Burning Glass’s Labor Insight™ covers the nationwide job market, filters based on education level, emphasizes demand and matches skills to specific jobs and careers. Users can explore salaries, top employers, number of jobs available, employment trends and more to determine the right academic program for them. With Program Insight™, this labor market data is linked to specific programs and certificates. The MPD team processed more than 40 specific reports for online and distance education programs.

“This is exciting. It really is for our prospective students. It’s also exciting for current students. If they are in any of the 111 programs, they can retrieve this information,” says Zimmerman. 

NC State Online is leveraging these technologies to support centralized marketing initiatives. Live data from Labor Insight™ will be directly applied to the enhanced website and real-time digital and social media advertisements for every online degree program that is offered. Information is narrowed from a myriad of job sites, including industry leaders such as Indeed and LinkedIn, presented in a variety of accessible formats and organized by filters. 

“It brings everything together. It’s the Amazon of employment data,” says Zimmerman. 

With the help of Labor Insight™, NC State Online is making key connections between academic programs and professional goals. 

“These strategies and tactics are going to really be able to provide relevant information about employment demand to prospective students in a viable, real-time, data-driven environment,” Zimmerman adds. 

Career Insight™ 

If a prospective student doesn’t know what type of career they want, Career Insight™ comes into play for the newly enhanced NC State Online website. 

“[Career Insight™] is the cherry on top of the frosting on top of the cake,” says Zimmerman. 

Career Insight™ allows all learners to explore new careers. Potential students visiting the updated website will have access to a questionnaire where they can supply information about their personal interests, skill sets and aspirations. Career Insight™ takes this information and pairs it with career opportunities supported by NC State Online degree programs. It also provides a holistic and personalized view of each program. 

NC State Online‘s website will inform prospective students to make the best choices for their individual success, even if they can’t find it with NC State. The website also refers users to UNC Online’s 480 online degree programs from 17 state institutions in North Carolina. 

Education Advisory Board Continuing and Online Education Forum Market Research and Pilot Project

For several years, MPD has collaborated with the Education Advisory Board (EAB)’s Continuing Online and Education (COE) Forum, a data-driven provider of market research, to reach and enroll adult students seeking to continue their education with online degree programs. 

MPD has targeted four programs for the EAB Marketing Automation Student Recruitment Pilot program to determine if EAB is an effective way to engage prospective audiences and increase student recruitment. Engineering Online, the Food Safety and Quality Management undergraduate certificate, the Agricultural Business Management undergraduate certificate, and the Master of Nutrition have been chosen for the pilot, with distance education program directors eager to explore this new opportunity. 

For the pilot, Zimmerman and MPD looked at data supplied by EAB regarding the last 10 years of graduates from the four programs, asking questions like “What were their demographics? What was their age range? Where did they live? What are their areas of interest? What are their areas of employment?” After building a database, they compared that information to larger national databases, generating nearly 2 million names of prospective Engineering Online students. 

How do you reach an audience of 2 million people? You narrow them down –– first to 400,000, and then to an attainable 70,000. 

“We could reach that 70,000 and send a personal letter to them. We can communicate with them through Facebook and social media advertising,” says Zimmerman. 

MPD expects to see the results of this pilot in a few years. Meanwhile, they look forward to the connections they will make along the way. 

“It’s all about building a relationship and dialogue with prospective students.”

Slate

To realistically build this relationship and manage inquiries from Labor Insight™ and the EAB pilot project, MPD sought automation. They found it with Slate

Owned and managed by The Graduate School, Slate is a client relationship management system (CRM) that serves as a tool for program coordinators to communicate with prospective students. The system tracks interactions and insights between the two parties as they connect. It has been leveraged successfully in admissions for The Graduate School, and will now support NC State Online as well.  

Slate operates with drip campaigns, or strategic messages that are gradually distributed. To start, an interested prospective student supplies basic information like their name, contact information and program of interest. Shortly after, they receive an automated email which has been written by a distance education program coordinator. More emails follow periodically, each with a different approach, ranging from a polite “thank you” to a reminder of application deadlines. 

The emails that prospective students receive can change based on interactions. All the while, Slate automates communication distribution, allowing directors to remain focused on the program itself. 

This automation helps to make sustainable, impactful and expansive growth possible for online degree programs and assists prospective students as they advance toward the program that will help them achieve their goals. 

Looking Forward  

In September, DELTA and MPD will bring all of these initiatives together to serve the organization’s overarching mission. 

“Student success is everyone’s No. 1 goal. These initiatives support student success,” says Zimmerman.

She is clear that these accomplishments can be attributed to DELTA as an entire organization. In broadening opportunities for prospective students to succeed academically and professionally, DELTA’s extensive efforts are bettering NC State as a whole. 

Ultimately, the new online marketing strategy addresses the needs of prospective students and reflects the fundamental motivation of online learners. 

Zimmerman adds, “Everybody’s looking for a job or career enhancement when they are evaluating online programs. We are really on the right track with careers.”